Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Mainfesto Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
An icon of the environmental movement outlines a provocative approach for reclaiming our planet. According to Stewart Brand, a lifelong environmentalist who sees everything in terms of solvable design problems, three profound transformations are under way on Earth right now. Climate change is real and is pushing us toward managing the planet as a whole. Urbanization - half the world's population now lives in cities, and 80 percent will by midcentury - is altering humanity's land impact and wealth. And biotechnology is becoming the world's dominant engineering tool.
In light of these changes, Brand suggests that environmentalists are going to have to reverse some longheld opinions and embrace tools that they have traditionally distrusted. Only a radical rethinking of traditional green pieties will allow us to forestall the cataclysmic deterioration of the earth's resources.
Whole Earth Discipline shatters a number of myths and presents counterintuitive observations on why cities are actually greener than countryside, how nuclear power is the future of energy, and why genetic engineering is the key to crop and land management. With a combination of scientific rigor and passionate advocacy, Brand shows us exactly where the sources of our dilemmas lie and offers a bold and inventive set of policies and solutions for creating a more sustainable society.In the end, says Brand, the environmental movement must become newly responsive to fast-moving science and take up the tools and discipline of engineering. We have to learn how to manage the planet's global-scale natural infrastructure with as light a touch as possible and as much intervention as necessary.
BONUS AUDIO: Includes an exclusive afterword written and read by author Stewart Brand.
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|Listening Length||13 hours and 21 minutes|
|Narrator||Johnny Heller, Stewart Brand (afterword)|
|Whispersync for Voice||Ready|
|Audible.com Release Date||October 15, 2009|
|Best Sellers Rank|| #67,821 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals) |
#11 in Atmospheric Sciences (Audible Books & Originals)
#111 in Environmental Conservation
#314 in Environmental Economics (Books)
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Reposted From Biofortified blog
It has been obvious to any independant clear-thinking observer that the environmental movement is in need of a reformation.
As with Christianity over the centuries, over the last 50 years environmentalism' s done an enormous amount of good. Christianity needed some 1500 years before it's wake-up call came on 31 October 1517 when Martin Luther nailed 95 theses on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg .
These are fast moving times, and environmentalism's changed much faster than Christianity did.
Forty-seven years after the publication of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring , the corresponding key date to 10/31/1517 in the reformation of environmentalism, is the day in 2009 when Stewart Brand's Whole Earth Discipline: an Ecopragmatist Manifesto reached the bookstores.
It's not what Stewart Brand says that important (and there is quite a bit I disagree with in the book). It is the open-minded and pragmatic way he goes about questioning the down-side of the romanticism that has dominated the environmentalist movement of the last 48 years. He points out where scientific environmental pragmatism and scepticism had been submerged by quasi-religious faith in big ideas that are often wrong. It is these wrong big ideas are now both harming people, and harming the reputation of environmentalism. Environmentalism needs a Martin Luther to rescue it's reputation.
As he rightly says "it's fortunate that there are so many romantics in the movement, because they are the ones who inspired the majority in most developed societies to see themselves as environmentalists. But that also means that scientists and their perceptions are always in the minority; they are easily ignored, suppressed, or demonised when their views don't fit the consensus storyline." That's the problem.
This reflexive almost paranoid suppression of critical views comes through of the environmental hierarchy's common portrayal of those who stray from the party line as being evil or in the pay of vile multinational corporations (or both). This dogmatism is preventing environmentalists from working out themselves where they are wrong.
Brand refreshingly and frankly states that he is willing to change his mind when he realises that the evidence shows his own opinion is wrong. He even gives examples of his own big mistakes. Such intellectual honesty is the way scientists work, as that's the way science is successful. Science gains by throwing out false opinion. The opinions of science are always subject to change, and scepticism should be, and usually is, welcome. Not only welcome, it is absolutely necessary. Sadly, we are a very rarely see this in environmentalist "advocacy" groups, at least in their public statements. They seem to think that being an advocate means they can forget about scientific due process (although they are happy to claim the credibility of being supported by science). As the recent Glaciergate and e-mailgate scandals about the IPCC demonstrate, we sorely need evidence-based environmentalism to restore full credibility to environmental policies.
I hope that Brand's wake-up call for greater respect for sceptical hardheaded science is heeded by the various environmentalist lobby groups, because as Brand demonstrates , the issues on which it needs to be brought to bear are important. Brand's discussion of genetic engineering of crops and food production is perhaps the best single exposition for the intelligent general reader why genetic engineering is needed for pragmatic solutions of important environmental challenges, such as reducing the amount of nitrogen fertiliser used in agriculture, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions caused by the use of this fertiliser.
As Brand has credentials in organic farming, he may finally get through to the great bulk of organic farming community who seem to be the dominant sources of resistance to genetic modification in agriculture. If they took Brand's advice, they would finally realise that the organic way and genetic engineering are very compatible:
"I have a history with organic farming-more than I realised. Reading The Omnivore's Dilemma (2007), Michael Pollan's natural history of American agriculture, I was surprised by this passage:
Organic Gardening and Farming struggled along in obscurity until 1969, when an ecstatic review in the Whole Earth Catalog [famously written by Brand] brought it to the attention of hippies trying to figure out how to grow vegetables without patronising the military-industrial complex. Within two years Organic Gardening and Farming's circulation climbed from 400,000 to 700,000."
To give a further taste of flavour of the book:
"In 2000 project called BioCassava Plus, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, undertook to engineer a radically improved cassava. It had eight goals for the new cultivar. In terms of nutrition, a daily diet should provide all a person needs of bioavailable protein, vitamin A, vitamin E, iron, and zinc. In addition, the new cassava should be free of cyanide, should be storable for two weeks instead of one day, and should be resistant to the viruses that afflict the crop. Each trait would be engineered separately and then stacked into a single all-purpose crop plant. "This is the single most ambitious plant genetic engineering project ever attempted," says the project leader, plant biologist Richard Sayre from a Ohio State... when all these traits get stacked into what will be a farmer-preferred cultivar from Africa, this work will be done by African scientists in African laboratories. We're developing the tools mostly in the United States and Europe but once these tools are in place, it becomes an African-owned and developed project." Field trials have begun in Kenya and Nigeria...
.. another venture of the Gates foundation is the African biofortified sorghum project, with Florence Wanbugu's Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation leading a consortium of nine institutions, including DuPont-Pioneer. Sorghum is a drought-tolerant staple for 500 million worldwide. The GE version will improve digestibility and vitamin K and E, iron and zinc, and three amino acids. Greenhouse trials are under way in South Africa. (Vitamin A, incidentally, is currently distributed to the developing world in the form of 500 million capsules costing about a dollar apiece. Getting the same amount of vitamin A from a fortified crop will cost about a fifth of a cent.) GE bananas are also being developed to provide a full allowances of vitamins A and E and iron for countries like Uganda, that rely on bananas as their major food source.
"Greenpeace will fight to keep GE bananas, cassava, and sorghum from poor countries' fields, just as it will keep opposing golden rice, says Janet Cotter of Greenpeace's Science Unit in London." That quote was in an April 2008 issue of Science.
Because the story is being told by an environmentalist with irrefutable Green credentials, the environmental movement will at last wake up to the cruel injustice being inflicted on the world's poor by well-meaning, well-fed, rich Green romanticists from the developed world.
These well-meaning romanticists are currently able to justify to themselves deliberately impeding the delivery of beneficial genetically engineered food crops to the people who can most benefit from them -- the rural poor of the third world, as has just happened in India with insect protected genetically engineered eggplant, banned because of environmentalist activism.
Fortunately Brand's wonderful book will not be ignored because it makes its statements in a highly direct controversial fashion. He delivers only three short but lethal bullets, unlike the first Martin Luther's list of 95 theses nailed to the door of the Schlosskirke in 1517.
"Cities are green. Nuclear energy is Green. Genetic engineering is Green" is unavoidable clarity from the new Martin Luther. So look out for them when they arrive in a Penguin paperback edition, due in March, my local bookstore tells me.
Posted by David Tribe
This book is about the dangers to humans from global warming and climate change and what we can do to handle it. I find the most important chapters to be about urbanization, nuclear power, and genetic engineering. A theme throughout the book is that we must control irrational fear and rely on scientists to show us the challenges, and engineers to design the solutions. There is also the acknowledgement that only government has the power to mandate necessary changes.
Global warming and climate change is controversial with the mainstream public but less so in the scientific community. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated in 2001 that the world is warming and that most of the warming over the previous fifty years is attributable to human activities. No scientific body of national or international standing has dissented.
Brand is an urban enthusiast--the world is urbanizing at a rapid rate and this is very good. Urbanization offers more efficient use of resources and infrastructure costs. He sees great hope for urbanization, including huge, fast-growing slums whose inhabitants pragmatically solve social problems. He notes that Mumbai, seventeen million people, half slums, creates one-sixth of India's gross domestic product. He visualizes city farms, thirty-story buildings on a city block, the upper stories growing hydroponic veggies, the lower levels with fish and chickens eating the plant waste. The infrastructure efficiencies of urban density are irrefutable. Soon, eighty percent of humans will live on three percent of the land.
Chapter Four, New Nukes, opens with a quote: "With climate change, those who know the most are the most frightened. With nuclear power, those who know the most are the least frightened." Brand is in both groups. His epiphany on nuclear power happened because of a visit to Yucca Mountain nuclear waste depository. He and his Long Now Foundation cohorts discussed the whys: why should we store nuclear waste in a place designed for ten thousand years when we will likely be finding new ways to use that waste for energy within a hundred? Why should we assume that humans will stay the same for the next ten thousand years?
Brand and physicist friend, Amory Lovins, disagree on almost all of the nuclear issues but he thinks Amory will come around when local mini-reactors are available, negating the need for long transmission lines.
The grid requires baseload, dependable, substantial power. Wind and solar generation are presently only intermittent, so cannot dependably contribute to baseload. But the sun is much more intense up high and orbiting solar stations could contribute to baseload. Power will be microwaved down to rectennas. Japan is planning a one-gigawatt space solar reactor. A California utility claims it will have a twenty-megawatt solar farm in orbit in 2016.
The next issue is footprint. Land-based solar and wind power require huge spaces, fifty to two hundred square miles to produce as much power as a nuclear plant that needs about a third of a square mile.
To baseload and footprint, he adds portfolio, the premise that climate change is so serious we must do all we can to minimize its impact. Regarding energy efficiency and conservation, Brand and Lovins are on the same page. Efficiency and conservation provide the greatest benefit at the least cost at the fastest speed.
A fourth primary consideration is government. "You can't get decent grid power without decent government power."
Fourth generation nuclear power is cleaner and it is safer. There are reactor designs in the works and some are being built that are far advanced from those in use today. As far as cost, Brand notes that "the problem is not that nuclear is expensive. The problem is that coal is cheap."
James Lovelock, the ninety-one year old scientist who gave us the Gaia hypothesis, presents the paradox of energy policy: "We have no time to experiment with visionary energy sources; civilization is in imminent danger and has to use nuclear--the one safe, available energy source--now or suffer the pain soon to be inflicted by our outraged planet."
But, wait. In an interview dated 1-26-09 with Democratic Underground, Lovelock was asked: Do you still advocate nuclear power as a solution to climate change? His answer: "It is a way for the UK to solve its energy problems, but it is not a global cure for climate change. It is too late for emissions reduction measures."
Brand's final point on the nuclear issue is that five out of six people live in countries now fast developing, nearly six billion poor people who will demand grid electricity--and where that power comes from will decide the climate.
Genetic engineering is a way to combat food shortages and climate change. It allows leaving more land natural.
Brand offers as proof of the safety of GE foods "the most massive dietary experiment in history," the fact that since1996 nearly everyone in the USA, "the test group," has eaten vast quantities of GE corn, canola and soybeans while Europeans, "the control group," have refrained from eating any at all. The proof is that there is no discernible health difference between the test group and the control group.
Peter Ravens, one of the world's leading botanists, says that nothing has so hurt our world, causing more extinction of species and more instability of ecological systems than the agriculture system that feeds over six billion humans.
I am skeptical of Brand's assertion that gmo farmers practice no-till, while organic farmers plow. I don't know any big organic farmers but all the little guys I know do not plow. As much as possible, they respect the soil community, disrupt it minimally, use previous plant residue and mulch to build soil and reduce weeds. From Edward Faulkner's book, Plowman's Folly, to Rodale, to the present, the trend in organic circles has been to let the soil community do the heavy lifting.
The future of our species is in question. Our instincts have served us well but now threaten the livability of our planet-home.
It is too easy to stay stuck in yesterday's priorities. We better figure out--unemotionally--what we should do if we are to survive the next fifty years.
This is not a dress rehearsal. This could in fact be our final performance if we do it wrong.
Warning: reading this book may cause you to find most of the hot issues of the day to be really petty.
Top reviews from other countries
James Lovelock wrote, "only one immediately available source does not cause global warming and that is nuclear energy." Wind and solar power, being intermittent, `remain supplemental, usually to gas-fired plants', as Brand notes. He points out that. France has an efficient process for licensing nuclear reactors' construction and operation, taking just four years to the USA's 12.
Brand says that we need a Plan B, because current efforts to cut carbon emissions are failing, so we need to explore geo-engineering options, like albedo enhancement by stratospheric sulphur injections.
Brand writes, "the environmental movement has done more harm with its opposition to genetic engineering than with any other thing we've been wrong about. We've starved people, hindered science, [and] hurt the natural environment." As he notes, "GE crops help mitigate greenhouse gases and are more ecologically benign than non-GE crops."
Based on the International Council of Science's review of 50 independent assessments, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization concluded in 2004, "Currently available genetically modified crops - and foods derived from them - have been judged safe to eat. ... Millions of people worldwide have consumed foods derived from genetically modified plants (mainly maize, soybean, and oilseed rape) and to date no adverse effects have been observed."
Four separate reports from our Royal Society confirm that there is not a shred of evidence of risk to our health from GM crops. The EU's research directorate summarised the results of 81 scientific studies financed by the EU itself (not by private industry) conducted over 15 years: not one found evidence of harm to humans or to the environment. The Nuffield Council on Bioethics concluded, "There is a moral imperative for making GM crops readily and commercially available for people in developing countries who want them."
Yet Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth oppose GM foods, even golden rice with added vitamin A. FoE founder Dave Brower said, "All technology should be assumed guilty until proven innocent." Good intentions cut no mustard: as Robert Gwadz of the National Institutes of Health pointed out, "The ban on DDT may have killed 20 million children."
Brand concludes that we need science, engineering, nuclear power and genetically modified crops. We in Britain must ensure that we make it and grow it here.
However there are serious lacks. Presumably because he is American, he does not imagine any alternative to corporate capitalism. He talks of `managing the commons' without recognising that one of the main thrusts of capitalism, for over four hundred years, is the privatisation of the commons for profit, more recently expropriating its intellectual property and patenting its DNA! He is clearly a technophile, but berates rather than understands the justified suspicion of science when it is in the service of this corporate capitalism. Western technological science co-arose with capitalism, is at best co-dependent with it, perhaps simply a product of it.
He fails to provide, therefore, any political economic context for his thesis or, for that matter, much cultural perspective. The future he imagines of successfully combating climate change could be either a utopia or a dystopia, depending whether the technical solutions are accompanied by a shift in values - or not....
Nevertheless he convincingly argues that the environmental movement will also have to shift its ground. The book's `eco-pragmatism' is therefore radical in suggesting some of the sacred cows it will have to abandon, and worth reading, even though the egocentric style is sometimes irritating, for Brand's encyclopaedic knowledge. It succeeds as a practical guide to changing one's mind and looking at difficult challenges in a new way.